The Girl Summit: Two Years On

Last week ministers and activists gathered in the House of Commons to celebrate the second anniversary of the Girl Summit. The Summit, held in 2014 at a London school aimed to set the agenda, and galvanise enthusiasm, to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) within a generation.

Co-hosted by the UK Government and UNICEF, the Girl Summit brought together heads of state, practitioners, survivors, charities and community groups in the hope of fueling the growing global movement to protect girls’ rights. According to DfID, ending FGM and CEFM will help to “preserve a girl's childhood, promote her education, and reduce her exposure to violence and abuse, allowing her to make choices about her own future and fulfil her potential in life.”

The Summit’s vision of a world free of FGM and CEFM is slowly being realised: two years on, globally, families and communities are increasingly resisting these practices and standing up to cultural pressures surrounding them.

In a press statement to mark the second anniversary of Girl Summit, Shelby Quast, the Americas Office Director of Equality Now, said, “There has been some amazing progress over the past two years in ending both "child marriage" and FGM. Nigeria and The Gambia have passed anti-FGM laws, which will hopefully have a ripple effect in other countries which have yet to do so such as Liberia, Mali and Sudan. The Gambia has banned "child marriage" recently too, but key challenges have continued in countries such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia, which have yet to do so.”

Quast called for the U.S. to join the conversation: “The U.S. can also be a global leader on efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM). However, we must first get our own house in order. Although there is a federal law which bans FGM, there is a need for a comprehensive inter-agency approach to address this human rights violation that will last throughout this administration and beyond. We urge the U.S. to ensure all efforts to end FGM are sustainable and supported with funding, and support and encourage state efforts to end FGM at local levels.”

In 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg knew that their role was to get behind those on the ground, to support and accelerate their efforts. This was echoed last week by current Prime Minister Theresa May and the all-female line up of ministers in the key roles of Education, Health and International Development who committed to build on the progress made in the last two years.

At the Commons on 22 July the outgoing Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, Jane Ellison, and her successor launched “FGM: the facts”, a series of videos created to inform the public, about the dangers of FGM and how it can be prevented. 

The videos, combined with the release of the first-ever recorded figures on FGM in the England and Wales, show that the UK’s commitments made during the Girl Summit are here to stay.

The new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Innovation, Nicola Blackwood, told the BBC: "FGM devastates lives, and we are committed to ending this abusive practice. Too often FGM is a hidden crime so to help us do this, we must know the scale of the problem which is why we are collecting data on FGM across the NHS.”

The Summit has now gone global: in March 2016 Nepal hosted a Girl Summit as part of its commitment to end child marriage by 2030. The summit, opened by Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, was attended by Prince Harry along with young people, community members, activists, religious leaders, government officials, diplomats, UN and civil society.  

The fight to end FGM still has a long way to go, but the recently celebrated anniversary of Girl Summit has given us the opportunity to reflect on the progress made so far, and while we can’t be complacent, we can applaud the work that has been undertaken to change laws, cultures and attitudes.

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